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Robin Garr

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WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by Robin Garr » Wed Jun 07, 2006 12:24 pm

<table border="0" align="right" width="110"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/zralyguide.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Disappointing book on American wine

When I heard that Kevin Zraly would be publishing a new pocket-size guide to the wines of the United States this month, I was so excited that I got right on the horn and nagged the publisher to rush me out an advance copy for review.

It looked like a great concept whose time had come, as interest in American wines is on the rise. Despite angry opposition from distributors, the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 ruling on wine shipping holds potential to open new markets for small wineries in "non-traditional" wine-producing states (i.e., everything east of California, Oregon and Washington).

Moreover, wine production east of the Rockies is enjoying a significant, if little-publicized, boom. The number of U.S. commercial wineries has expanded sevenfold in the past 30 years, from fewer than 600 bonded wineries in 1975 to more than 4,000 today. And for the first time in history, there are now commercial wineries in all 50 states. California still makes 90 percent of the nation's wine, and New York, Washington and Oregon make much of the rest, but even in the non-traditional states, the chances are good that there's a winery not far from you.

The market was ready for one really good consumer guide to all this activity, and Zraly - known both as the longtime wine guru of the Windows on the World restaurant atop the ill-fated World Trade Center and as a respected wine educator whose "Windows on the World Complete Wine Course" is one of the most popular and highly recommended starter books on wine - seemed to be a good choice to write it.

Sadly, however, this is not one really good guide. Quick, casual and lightweight, it appears to have been rushed out with minimal effort and limited research.

A slender cardboard-bound volume sized to fit a (largish) pocket, it begins with a brief outline of wine tasting and short history of American wine, neither going into more depth than a magazine article. The "meat" of the book, a state-by-state listing of each state's winery situation, is disappointingly brief, generic and carelessly researched. Most states are disposed of in a single page, with ample white space and colorful wine-label images. Contents are generally limited to a state wine website (most of them pointing back to the useful but generic AmericanWineries.org), the number of wineries in the state, each state's oldest winery, largest winery and two or three "well-known wineries," a listing and tiny map of American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), if any, the number of acres under vine, and a short list of "top grapes."

There's no complete listing of wineries and no contact or location information for those shown; no wine-tasting reports or any consumer advice at all. And frankly, a quick read revealed an abundance of errors. Kentucky's first vineyard is shown as Lover's Leap in Lawrenceburg, founded in 2000, which seems odd considering that I visited, and wrote about, Broad Run Vineyards in 1998, at which time it was selling 1993 and 1995 vintage wines. It's still extant. Indiana's "well-known wineries" omits Huber Orchard & Winery in Starlight, one of the state's oldest and largest.

Kevin, I'm disappointed in you. This book could have been so much, but in fact it's so little. It reminds me of nothing so much as a student's term paper based on a quick read of Cliff's Notes plot summaries.

<B>BUY THE BOOK ONLINE:</B>
Chances are that I've talked you out of buying this book, but I'm here to give you my honest opinions, not to sell you books. I found this item disappointing, particularly from a wine educator of Zraly's caliber, and it would be wrong to pretend otherwise. That being said, though, if a pocket listing of basic information about each state's wine industry is useful to you, it doesn't require a major investment to pick up a copy. Kevin Zraly's "American Wine Guide[/url]" is available from Amazon.com in paperback for just $9.97, a 23 percent discount from its book store list price.

As always, if you should choose to buy this book through this direct link, we'll earn a small commission that helps cover the costs of distributing this E-letter and maintaining WineLoversPage.com.
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Howie Hart

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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by Howie Hart » Wed Jun 07, 2006 1:07 pm

Robin - consider this a challenge! Either you could write a book on the subject containing what you thought it should be. "Robin Garr's Guide to American Wine". OR - you could tap into the resources of the WLDG, let the forum members contribute and have "WLDG Guide to American Wine", with you as the editor.
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James Roscoe

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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by James Roscoe » Wed Jun 07, 2006 1:32 pm

I assume it would be North American Wine, but it's a great idea. Quite frankly there are some great writers on this forum and this is an idea that has some real potential! Bravo Howie! The chapter on hybrids by you and Paul would be worth the price alone! Although the Finger lakes and the Niagra regions would be worth your attention. I also want to read Bucko's page on backwoods "wines".
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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by Eve Lejeune » Wed Jun 07, 2006 1:43 pm

Robin Garr wrote:<table border="0" align="right" width="110"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/zralyguide.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Disappointing book on American wine

When I heard that Kevin Zraly would be publishing a new pocket-size guide to the wines of the United States this month, I was so excited that I got right on the horn and nagged the publisher to rush me out an advance copy for review.


Hello, Robin

Thanks for the info and sorry for the disappointment. I went through the same feeling with a French book about the history of American wines (I know, I shouldn't have expected wonders!). Could you (or anybody) recommend a good book on the history of American wines since the 19th century?
Thanks for any help you could provide. Best, Eve
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Randy Buckner

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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by Randy Buckner » Wed Jun 07, 2006 1:45 pm

Code: Select all
I also want to read Bucko's page on backwoods "wines".


Hey, how did my dawg git dragged into this fight? :wink:
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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by James Roscoe » Wed Jun 07, 2006 1:46 pm

Your "dawg" might have a better palate?
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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by Randy Buckner » Wed Jun 07, 2006 1:51 pm

Your "dawg" might have a better palate?


Oh, you know my dog! 8)
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Robin Garr

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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by Robin Garr » Wed Jun 07, 2006 2:19 pm

Eve Lejeune wrote:Could you (or anybody) recommend a good book on the history of American wines since the 19th century?


Hi, Eve! It's nice to see you ... seems you and RR have both been kind of scarce lately.

Here are two books. Alas, I haven't read either one, but they come well recommended.

This one, I think, is quite scholarly:

A History of Wine in America: From Prohibition to the Present
by Thomas Pinney
University of California Press

And this one more "popular."

American Vintage: The Rise of American Wine
by Paul Lukacs
W.W. Norton
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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by Robin Garr » Wed Jun 07, 2006 2:22 pm

Howie Hart wrote:Robin - consider this a challenge!


It's a great idea, Howie, and should definitely be "North American," to include Canada and perhaps even Mexico.

Realistically, though, to do it right would be both time and labor-intensive, and not cheap. We're talking about on-the-ground research, one individual (or many) actually going to the wineries, taking care to do careful research on each winery, taste and evaluate the wines, etc. It's a double bind, because I wouldn't want to do it if we didn't do it right, yet to do it right would be such an expensive project that one wonders if there would be a sufficient market in American wines to have any hope of recovering the costs in sales.
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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by Howie Hart » Wed Jun 07, 2006 3:03 pm

If we had enough WLDGers to participate, we could do a few things through this forum. Before Netscape you started a "Writer's Forum". Such a forum could be used to post contirbutions to the project, such as regional tours, perspectives on varieties and where they grow, etc. In addition, WT101 could be used to focus on North American wines for some extended period of time (2 years?). In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the data for a large percentage of such a project already exists in the form of the Wine Advisor and TNs. It would have to be re-organized and supplemented.
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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by Robin Garr » Wed Jun 07, 2006 3:12 pm

Howie Hart wrote:If we had enough WLDGers to participate, we could do a few things through this forum.


Howie, since we'll have a good critical mass of the WLDGers most interested in "non-traditional" US and Canadian wine regions together this weekend, why don't we plan to assemble a group and spend at least a little time talking about this? Of course I'll be glad to work with anyone who's interested.
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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by James Roscoe » Wed Jun 07, 2006 3:23 pm

This sounds exciting. Let me know how it turns out. I will be happy to help with any of the leg work, especially in MD and VA.
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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by Robin Garr » Wed Jun 07, 2006 3:30 pm

James Roscoe wrote:This sounds exciting. Let me know how it turns out. I will be happy to help with any of the leg work, especially in MD and VA.


Well, it's an interesting challenge and, as I said, a lot of work involved, but it could be fun.

We'd obviously want to go for a niche. There are good sites around already that detail and promote the wine industries in many states, and a couple of fine sites with a national overview.

The obvious gap, it seems to me, is in frank, competent reports from consumers on specific wines from as many wine regions and wineries as possible. Most of the current sites either don't purport to evaluate or score wines, and most of the ones that do are pretty much "see no evil." So maybe one variation on Howie's suggestion would be a simple forum section (or perhaps blog-like subdivision of WLP.com) where individuals can report non-spam, consumer tastings.

Of course, as I talk, I realize that we already have this worldwide with the WTN reports, but we're sort of talking about a special, organized effort for the relatively unplowed ground of "non-traditional" wine regions in the US and Canada.
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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by James Roscoe » Wed Jun 07, 2006 3:38 pm

This just sounds like such a cool idea.
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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by Ed Draves » Wed Jun 07, 2006 3:50 pm

Damn I wish I has writing talent, I'd love to participate. Anything a guy whose weakness is writing do to help write a book?
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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by Thomas » Wed Jun 07, 2006 4:29 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Eve Lejeune wrote:Could you (or anybody) recommend a good book on the history of American wines since the 19th century?


Hi, Eve! It's nice to see you ... seems you and RR have both been kind of scarce lately.

Here are two books. Alas, I haven't read either one, but they come well recommended.

This one, I think, is quite scholarly:

A History of Wine in America: From Prohibition to the Present
by Thomas Pinney
University of California Press

And this one more "popular."

American Vintage: The Rise of American Wine
by Paul Lukacs
W.W. Norton


And Eve, Thomas Pinney's first book was, A History of Wine in America: From the Beginning to Prohibition.

You can check out my Web site for another wine history book coming out next month.
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Would It Sell????

by TomHill » Wed Jun 07, 2006 4:36 pm

Can you imagine a WLDG Book On North American Wines that was 3/4'ths on BacoNoir written by PaulB??? Ohhhhh...it boggles the mind. We could put on the cover of it this guy pedalling furiously down the street in his little propellor beenie hat waving the btl of Baco in the air!!! The possibilities are limitless!!
Tom
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Re: Would It Sell????

by James Roscoe » Wed Jun 07, 2006 4:46 pm

To be honest the Paul B. and a bicycle did come to mind. However if Thomas P. would sign on to the project we would have the ball rolling.
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Re: Would It Sell????

by Howie Hart » Wed Jun 07, 2006 5:08 pm

The only way that such a book could be dominated by PaulB's Baco is if the folks on the West Coast let him. As Robin pointed out, something like 90% of North American wine comes from CA, OR & WA and such an endeavor should reflect this.
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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by David Lole » Wed Jun 07, 2006 5:39 pm

I'm sure keen to help out too, but by crikey, it'd be a bit hard for me to do vineyard/winery tours on the weekend's.

In any event, I'm pretty good for Aussies, not too bad on the better known Frenchies ..... of no help, I know :roll: ..... but have a chronically bad dose of NFI syndrome on your local stuff!

If this project germinates, I am willing to offer as much encouragement as humanly possible. :wink:
Cheers,

David
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Re: Would It Sell????

by Thomas » Wed Jun 07, 2006 5:41 pm

James Roscoe wrote:To be honest the Paul B. and a bicycle did come to mind. However if Thomas P. would sign on to the project we would have the ball rolling.


Well James,

I am not at liberty to go into details...

Anyway, a collaborative book with so many contributors! Perish the thought :). The copyright squabbles would be enough for jumping off a bridge.
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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by Bob Cohen » Wed Jun 07, 2006 5:57 pm

Robin,

I wonder if the Wiki concept couldn't be used for something like this. Ideally (though not always in practice) wikis seem to be self-correcting and don't require a lot of editorial supervision.
--Bob
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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by Thomas » Wed Jun 07, 2006 5:59 pm

Bob Cohen wrote:Robin,

I wonder if the Wiki concept couldn't be used for something like this. Ideally (though not always in practice) wikis seem to be self-correcting and don't require a lot of editorial supervision.


Bob,

I've found that a lot of Wiki has bad information in it, which is the result of no editorial supervision.
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Re: WineAdvisor: Disappointing book on American wine

by Hoke » Wed Jun 07, 2006 6:10 pm

Regarding the book, Robin---

I'm speculating here, but I believe the genesis of this book came when KZ signed on with a national chain group (a steakhouse) that wanted to shift to an all-American wine list.

When I ran into Kevin while we were both doing a seminar for a regional wine event, he was bubbling over about the research he was doing winkling out all the various and sundry wineries/producers throughout the country. He was amazed at how many there were, and how enthusiastic and persistent some of the tiny ones were.

I figure he just took all that research he already had and shifted it into a book format. Sounds to me like he did more cut and paste of lists though, and left it at that, rather than going into the stories and the people in rich detail. Hey, a list is a list is a list, and any list gets old fast.

I guess one of the questions I'd ask is: If Kevin Zraly's name wasn't attached to it, would the book have been worth printing in the first place?

And a second thought: as much as I truly admire Kevin for his teaching and pr work for wine, I think Kevin's strengths are much more apparent in one hour focused seminars that impart quick, forthright ideas, rather than book length treatises. In short, he's a good---a very good---performer live.
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